Create More Game-changing Opportunities − Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
Listen to Episode 120:
Episode 120 Transcript:
This episode is brought to you by Business Advancements Incorporated − enabling successful leaders and companies to accelerate to their next level of growth and success. On the web at businessadvance.com. And now, here’s Pam and Scott.
Pam Harper: Thank Chris. I’m Pam Harper, Founding Partner and CEO of Business Advancement Incorporated, and right across from me as always, is my business partner and husband, Scott Harper. Hi, Scott.
Scott Harper: Hi Pam. It’s terrific to be joining you again for another episode of Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. As always, the purpose of this podcast is to spark new insights, inspiration, and immediately useful ideas for visionary leaders to take themselves − and their companies − to their next level of growth and success.
So, Pam, this is the first episode back after our special 14-part summer series, Be the Disruptor and not the Disrupted.
Pam Harper: Yes. If there’s anything that could be a theme for all of these episodes combined it’s this: to be the disruptor and not the disrupted, we all need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Scott Harper: You’ve got that right.
Pam Harper: And we’re going to step out of our own comfort zone in this episode by conducting our first ever Growth Igniters Radio poll. That means you’ll be able to see in real time how you compare with your peers on questions related to this week’s topic of stepping out of your comfort zone.
Scott Harper: Very cool.
Pam Harper: It’ll be accessible through both text messaging and through the web and we’ll tell you more during each of our two breaks. Now, stepping out of our comfort zones isn’t just important for us as individual leaders. It’s also important for the success of the companies we lead so we can continue to be the disruptors and not the disrupted.
Scott Harper: Yes.
Pam Harper: Today we’re glad to welcome the CEO of a successful growing company who does just that. He is Simon Nynens, chairman and CEO of Wayside Technology Group. His company provides clients with easy access to superior IT products and redefines how people interact with technology.
Now here’s a bit more about Simon’s background: he started his career at Ernst and Young in Amsterdam, Holland. He joined Wayside Technology Group in 1998 and became Chairman and CEO in 2006. He’s a graduate of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. Simon serves on the board for the New Jersey Technology Council and was chairman of the board from 2007 through 2015. He’s also a member of the President’s Leadership Council of Steven’s Institute of Technology. He received the 2011 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in the Technology Services category.
Now outside of Wayside, Simon is a proud father and husband, curious world traveler, keynote speaker, and chief motivator. He is a black belt in TaeKwonDo and a retired long distance runner. In fact, he ran many marathons and some ultra marathons, including a 100-kilometer race. Simon, welcome to Growth Igniters Radio.
Simon Nynens: Thank you, good morning; excited to be here.
Pam Harper: You’ve run many marathons, which involves literally stepping out of your comfort zone. Tell us a bit about your own leadership journey. How has stepping out of your personal comfort zone created game-changing opportunities over your career?
Simon Nynens: Okay, let me take you back in time a little bit. I am one of five children. I was born in the north of the Netherlands, and when I was two years old, my dad got a new job so we moved all the way to the south of the Netherlands. Now the Netherlands is a little larger than New Jersey, so it’s not that far but the cultures are way different. The town we moved to was one of the poorest towns in the Netherlands. It was a mining city. We were sent to a very small reformed school, which was literally three trailers put together on a field, instead of those larger local Catholic schools. Most of the kids were Catholic and were going to those schools. It was only the four of us, for instance, in my class. Our religion was different, our accents were different, and I felt different.
My mom cared nothing about fashion. Yet as often the case in poor towns small tokens of wealth were important to us as kids, so some of my friends had Mephistos, which is kind of a brand name shoe with five stripes on the side.
Scott Harper: Right.
Simon Nynens: Yeah, when it was time for new shoes, my mom did not want to pay whatever for a pair of shoes −it was ridiculously expensive − so we got Adam and Eve shoes, some cheap, Chinese-made shoe that looked like Mephistos, except of course they weren’t. These shoes had three stripes on the side, not five. When we came back home, my brother and I took a permanent marker and we had a great idea to draw two more lines, and we really thought that this was going to work. When I came to school the next day, it quickly became obviously clear that we failed.
Kids were laughing. I felt horrible, and I vowed that one day I would be a CEO. I would be rich. I would be living in a big house. I would drive an Alpha Romeo. That was my dream, and I was, and I felt, different. I didn’t grow up there, and I wanted out as soon as possible. I remember watching an officer and a gentleman at a school film in the mid-80s, and I immediately signed up for TaeKwonDo. That was going to be me, strong, rich, successful, and with a good heart, a gentleman. I know it’s silly, yet I needed to have that image to project who I was going to be. With hindsight, it really helped, a positive image, something to strive for, albeit it being a little childlike, a naïve image of what success actually is.
Trust me, I’m still far from perfect, but I now give a keynote named “My Life Is A Fairytale, and So Is Yours,” and we talk about exactly this. What is actually real success? What do we actually really strive for in life? I look at a lot of things differently than most people, and that’s sometimes a big plus, and sometimes that’s a big minus.
We’re talking about comfort zones − I’m actually in my comfort zone if I’m out of the comfort zone. I felt like an outsider most of my life. I think it has helped me make decisions for this company and in my personal life that needed to be made. It is only now, at the age of 46 in this awesome, small town that we live here in New Jersey that I’m starting to feel really comfortable with who I really am and want to be.
Scott Harper: Okay. So you’re really pushing the status quo; you’ve been doing it all your life, and taking this from your personal life into your professional life. Since you’ve become CEO of Wayside Technology Group, how have you applied this idea of pushing the comfort zone and getting out of that status quo to your organization, your company, and used that to create game-changing opportunities and success?
Simon Nynens: Well, I believe there are only two ways to lead. One is by instilling fear; the other is to motivate people. I grew up and I worked in an environment of fear, and from experience, I knew a fearful, cynical, self-centered organization stifles innovation and productivity and destroys it. The other thing I learned quickly was that a team is only a team if that team trusts each other. The enemy is outside. I constantly repeated it in the beginning. I said, “Pull up the blinds. The enemy is outside.” You will never see an army have the in-fighting that most organizations have.
I started as European controller, and they sent me to Paris as the office manager for a very small and very poorly run Paris-based office. I walked in and the furniture was bad. The fax was literally over the garbage can, and the faxes would go straight into the garbage. It’s that kind of an environment. I realized “I’m not the boss here, but I can help.” What I thought was “I have to take ownership. You’re a steward of this company.” I worked my way up, and ever since I became CEO I wanted us to focus on doing one thing, and that’s to create a good foundation, a solid basis to build on, creating that safe and inspiring team.
It took me some time to convince the team there that the enemy is outside, not inside. Let me be clear, the organizations who understand this are the only ones that will survive and progress. Our growth has been steady, and we’re proud of it.
Scott Harper: So it sounds like one way to get your company to do new things and to push out of that comfort zone is to create an internal comfort so that you feel like you’re mutually supportive, you have each other’s back. Then, you can look out and say, “How are we going to do things differently?”
Simon Nynens: Right, and first you have to be comfortable in your own skin. Find out who you really are, and more importantly, find out who you want to be. Imagine it, write it down, dream it, and work at it, getting there every day. Only the dumbest and the smartest people never advance or change, so hone your skills, advance, and trying to find out what truth really is true, as I believe is actually the reason why we’re alive.
Pam Harper: Okay. So fast forward, and the company has become extremely successful. We hear so many leaders talking about how easy it is for complacency to set in once a company achieves success, yet your organization, Wayside Technology Group, has been innovating and growing. What would be an example of an innovation initiative that has your organization moving beyond your current success and into that zone of discomfort and onto your next level of success?
Simon Nynens: Yeah, so it’s actually usually the leaders that become complacent, not the team members. Trust me. You talk to some of these leaders, and all they talk about is their golf game, how bad competition is, and how sometimes lazy and complacent their workers are, always asking for more money.
We kept the focus; progress for us meant to really become fanatic about three things that set us apart as a middle man in distribution: speed − because there’s nothing worse than waiting for a quote or reply to your email; accuracy − you know it’s annoying if you get the wrong product; and most importantly, dependability − you need to have a company that you can depend on, because if you have a problem, you need to have a team that has your back.
When people order products, they can call. I give people my cell phone and say, “If it’s quarter end” − and in the software industry, the quarter end is very important because the pricing is only valid usually until the end of a quarter − “If you need to give me a call at 12 o’clock at night, do it. We’ve had New Year’s parties at my house where we had the head of purchasing and the vice president of information technology present, and we just logged onto our laptops and we were approving orders as we went.
I’m interested in how can we build an organization that gets more customers coming our way? Focus only on the things that really matter.
Pam Harper: Okay. Having that dedication to excellence and being responsive to your customers sounds like it’s something of a way to step out of that comfort zone of “we’ve always done it this way, we’re always going to do it this way − that’s the policy.”
Scott Harper: You’re focused on what has to happen.
Simon Nynens: Yeah − correct; correct.
Pam Harper: Okay. Well, we’re going to take a quick break right now and ask our first polling question. When we come back, we’ll talk more with Simon Nynens, chairman and CEO of Wayside Technology Group, about the benefits that can come from stepping out of your comfort zone. Stay with us…
Scott Harper: This is Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We enable visionary leaders of successful companies to become more successful, even faster. We’re on the web at businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: Welcome to our first ever Growth Igniters Radio poll. In our first segment, we’ve been talking about creating more opportunities by stepping out of the comfort zone. During this break, we’re asking the first of our two polling questions: What does it take to step out of your personal comfort zone? Answer the multiple choice question, and you’ll get instant feedback on how you compare with others on this important issue.
You can answer via text messaging or through our website. Either way, go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 120, and click “take polls” under the resources section.
Scott Harper: You’ll get instructions on how to take the poll − and be sure to act today, because time is limited. This poll is only open between August 23rd through August 29th, 2017.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper − that’s me − and Scott Harper. We’re taking with Simon Nynens, CEO and chairman of Wayside Technology Group, about the new opportunities that can come when you and your organization step out of your collective comfort zone. Simon, how can people find out more about you and the Wayside Technology Group?
Simon Nynens: My personal website for the keynotes is www.simonnynens.com, and more information about Wayside Technology Group can be found at www.Waysidetechnology.com.
Pam Harper: You can also find out more in the resources section for this episode by going to GrowthIgnitersRadio.com and selecting episode 120. Now, back to our conversation. Simon, you talk about the importance of the CEO as “Chief Motivator” − you describe yourself that way. How do you encourage your own organization to take innovation risks and move out of your collective comfort zone?
Simon Nynens: In my opinion, if you’re the leader, you got to lead. Sometimes you make the right decisions; sometimes you make the wrong decisions. It starts with admitting that you failed. I really feel within this company, because I grew up with them − I was a European controller; I worked my way up as CEO − I knew which people would tell me the truth, the unvarnished truth, and say, “Simon, you’re wrong here. You’re running into this wall.” I think you need that circle of good people around you.
We then focused only on the top priorities. It’s really tempting to say, “You know what? Our account’s receivable program. How can we approve more people? Do we take credit cards? Do we go out and get more lines? Do we go into South America? Do we go into Europe?” There’s so many things that you can do. Do we start an academy? Do we have a branded corporate credit card? What do we do with the website? There’s so many things that you can focus on, but only focus on the things that set you apart. Why do people buy from you?
I’ll give you an example. We cannot compete with Amazon, right? We sell software. We sell laptops and stuff. But there’s no phone number for Amazon. You cannot call them and say, “Yeah, I already have 11 licenses and I want to get 35.” There’s no phone number. There’s just click quantity: 24. Do you get special pricing? No.
People want to have that advice. Well, they call us. There’s nothing more annoying than, for instance, if a bank calls you at night. They should never call you at night because I’m sitting with my family. I don’t like it, but when I call the bank, I want them to pick up immediately if being sent to us a menu of options.
When I came here, I dialed in. I was out of the office, and I had to go through this menu. I said we just got to rip this apart. When people call us, it’s not just to chit chat. They have business to do. Then, I got a report of why we got dropped calls all the time. That was after the fact.
Then, I thought back about my time growing up with five kids in a busy household. When we did not pick up the phone, my mom would yell, “Pick up the phone.” There was no one here yelling, so I got together with Vito Legrottaglie, our CIO, and a great guy from northern New Jersey, who also grew up in a similar environment in terms of you just have to make do with what you got. He said, “How about if we just get a bell?” I said, “A bell? That would be awesome.” After 20 seconds of people waiting and now we’ve made it 15 seconds, we hung up this large bell in our call centers, and it just started ringing very loudly. Guess what? Problem solved. Problem solved.
Pam Harper: Wait a moment − the people heard this bell, and what happened?
Simon Nynens: Oh, you know, they have to pick up the phone. If they didn’t, I would run out of my office, because I still had an office at the time. I was like, “Pick up the phone. We’ve got to pick up the phone.”
You’ve got to watch only the things that really matter instead of having these management meetings. I killed most management meetings. In the beginning I had meetings that were stand up meetings − because there was so many meetings I’d just have them standing, so at least people move on quickly. Then, I went into most of these meetings and said, “Can I see the action items out of this meeting, because you guys were in here for an hour.” This was 10 years, ago. They didn’t have a lot of action items. It was basically, “Oh, that department is not good. This department …” It wasn’t very fact-based.
There’s so much that’s irrelevant. For instance, I never understood why we focus on handbooks, dress policies, making people stay late. Why do people even come into the office? If they work better at home, let them work at home. What are your results?
Pam Harper: So the focus on what really matters helps people to step out of the collective comfort zone it sounds like. It’s what you have to do.
Simon Nynens: Right. I believe as a leader you have to lead, because I’ve seen many people like … “You guys should take risks,” and when they take risks, they fire them. I hire people with the objective to have them retire with us. We tell people that. There’s also people who worked here in the beginning − less now, but sometimes it still happens − where I tell everybody, “If you’re unhappy, come to me. I know a lot of people in the industry, and I will find you a good job somewhere else.” People thought in the beginning, “Here’s this weird European guy. He’s telling us to come to him? I’m not going to go to my CEO when I don’t like it here. That’s not going to happen.”
Well, somebody did, and I found her a great job. She told other people, who all moved on, but guess what? Our organization became that much better, because people who are unhappy at work have a circle of influence that they tell everybody why they’re unhappy.
Scott Harper: Yeah, and it spreads.
Simon Nynens: Right. It spreads, and it’s not good for you and it’s not good for them.
It’s that mentality that I thought never makes sense. There’s so many people that all they do is justify − “Well, that’s just not the way we do things in here. We can’t do this. We can’t.” What if we would turn that around and say … “If I don’t have a good answer, I’ll say yes.” It’s the same as my children − I’ve got four kids − if we don’t have a good reason to say no to them, we say yes.
Scott Harper: Okay. So you’re focusing on your employees and really helping them find the best way to make a difference to your customers. Now, many leaders really focus on their employees, and they define their company as their internal organization, the people on the payroll. But more and more we see companies extending themselves and getting better reach through partnerships. One of the things we saw on your website that really struck us was a quote from one of your employees. It said, “Wayside Technology Group isn’t just a company. It’s an extended family that includes not only employees but resellers and vendors and others.” How did you decide to shape your company’s culture to support that?
Simon Nynens: When I came here as a distributor and reseller, you sell somebody else’s product, right? We really are an extension of their marketing and sales teams. Many people say that. So when we picked up a product line, we said, “Well, our sales reps, they don’t get together because we are CEOS and have a great talk about the strategy of our company.” Most people really don’t care about that. They want a steady paycheck. They want to have a friendly team and they want to have stability, and they want to want to have looking forward and say, “Okay, somebody show me the way.” You don’t have two-hour strategy meetings and financial numbers.
Most people say, “Okay, what is in it for me?” In order to be successful, we really have to know who we represent. We said, “why don’t we just send our team out and we’re going to play baseball together for a night?” The people who really mattered got together and got to know each other. Many companies in our industry, and I’m sure in many others, try to cut corners and just compete on price. We really truly start to spend time to get to know our vendor partners. That’s not something I came up with. I just prompted what I saw as very successful teams within our company were doing.
It comes down to this: Focus on the human sides of humans. Understand what is important to them, and be real − not some phony person − and life is just easier, much more pleasant, for all. I don’t believe in that whole thing about, you know, how to learn how to talk to people, how to get them to like you and all that stuff. I focus on authenticity. If you’re funny, be funny. Don’t read somewhere you have to be funny and try to make some jokes. It won’t work. Who is it that you really are? When we found out who they are really, then we tried to line them up with people who we knew were similar. They get to know their counterparts on the customer side and on the vendor side.
We have vendors working with us all the time. We have an office now where there are no offices. I don’t have an office. We have all kind of different rooms together. We have a meditation room. We have a bar. You work wherever you are. We have vendors working with our teams, and they say, “Can we more often come to your office, because it’s a great environment.” We can get together getting those deals together. We have volleyball teams together. I attend weddings.
When people are in trouble, you don’t normally see me as CEO on our team. If things go well, it’s all great. If things go extremely well, I want to be there to congratulate you. I’ve gone with people to pawn shops to get their wedding rings back. After Super storm Sandy, we had people with their roofs blown off. I was on a roof with an employee trying to cover the roof with the director of operations.
You can say you care, or you really try to be there. By the way, you have to be very careful about that, because I’ve had a friend of mine who said, “Well, I do this employee stuff too. I had a company party, and we had a family day in the summer. They were still unhappy.” I said, “Were you there? Were you interacting with people?”
Pam Harper: Exactly. What is so important here is that what you’re talking about is so natural for you. I mean, it’s clear that it’s just who you are. As you said, it’s authenticity, and yet it goes beyond being a nice to do. There’s obviously a top and bottom line effect on growth as well. Can you tell us about that?
Simon Nynens: Yes, that’s a very good point, because sometimes we run into that with people. I tell them, “I will back you up. If we do bad as a company.” Again, working for somebody who didn’t do that, I really didn’t like that. Things go bad. Then, they say, “Oh, that was that manager. Oh, he is bad.” No, you’re the leader of that department. You take ownership. I’m the CEO of this company. Anything goes bad with this company, I take ownership. I believe in that.
We’ve had very good years where our financial performance was not that great, but I believe operationally we had the finest year ever. I told people that. You have to make sure that they understand that you are still happy with their performance even though financially it didn’t show yet. There were other years where we had very good financial years, and I wasn’t so happy with the way we got to our success.
People get to know you by communication, and day in, day out, you are who you are. I feel that if we would all do that, because again, if there’s somebody … I use the example, if there’s a car in front of you that does not have the right of way and you give that car the right of way, then that person in that car is going to say you’re awesome. “Thank you for letting me go ahead. What a great guy.” But the person behind you is looking at you, “What is this idiot doing? Why is he …” We’ve all seen that, right?
Pam Harper: Right.
Simon Nynens: Most decisions in your life are going to be like that. Whatever I do, there will be people here, or outside of the organization, who will say, “Oh, it’s fake. Oh, it’s bad. Look at this guy.” And there will be people who say, “He’s trying to make good things happen to other people.” For me, a quote that might also sound corny to some but not to me was from Mother Theresa. “In the end, it was never between you and them. It was always between you and a godlike person.” I really believe that. If you try to do good, maybe it won’t happen in the first day, but if you try consistently to be who you really are, I believe good things happen.
Going back to what you said in the beginning, in business you also have to be aware of the financial side. You can have friendships, but people can’t be like, “Oh, we’re just here to have a good time.” That’s where sometimes we get into trouble where I tell people, “Hey, this is not a social institution. We’re here to make money.” Even though I’m not very keen on what is our sales budget for next year, listen, if I visit customers until three o’clock in the afternoon and I got until five o’clock, am I going to stop at three o’clock because I hit my quota, or am I going to keep going? I’m going to keep going. When I visit, I want to visit as many people as I can, not just what I have on my list. That’s the same as a company. I want to win because we are better than our competition, and we are better for our employees than our competition. We are better for the environment than our competition. That’s why I want to win, because we’re better. I’m very competitive, and sometimes people get that mixed up, like, “Hey, he’s a nice guy. Then, suddenly he’s like, ‘Hey, we got to win.'” That’s what we get paid for, right?
Scott Harper: Yeah. Well ultimately, you make money, and companies make money through human behavior that makes a difference, and it makes them distinct to their customers.
Pam Harper: That’s right.
Simon Nynens: Correct. And by the way − one word about that. So often now in Europe − and also now it’s starting to really happen in the U.S. − being a CEO or an entrepreneur is sometimes seen as “oh, look at these guys. We’re profiting off the rest.” But if it wasn’t for entrepreneurs, we wouldn’t have a car company that really pushed sustainability.
Another example − At Harvard, they had a study. It sounds weird, but Nike going to Bangladesh has caused in Bangladesh the birth rate for mothers, because they were all on the farms, they were all on outside of the cities. They had childbirth of six children. Nike came, and they wanted women, because they were much more accurate apparently, and much better. The factory’s working at this, and they didn’t pay them a lot, but they gave them the first step on the ladder of advancement. The childbirth dropped from six to two. With that, in years, that organization has done … It sounds weird, because we tend to think of these sweat shops and stuff, but that’s the first step on the ladder. Being an entrepreneur does not always mean we’re going to build up a smoky factory and we’re going to ruin the world.
Sometimes the people that I’ve seen help invent medication, or companies like Tesla and Apple − they do really good things. Facebook got started, and now everybody has real access to information. We are here to make good things happen too, and you can do both. You can be good for the environment and good for your employees and also be profitable. It’s not just this nonsense about the minimum wage or we can’t pay people nine dollars an hour. Come on. It’s not that.
Pam Harper: Yes, well, you’re preaching to the choir here. We are all entrepreneurs in our own way, and we believe in doing the right things, and it really comes down to being willing to look at what is your purpose? What are you about?
We’re going to talk more about that, but first, we’re going to take a quick break for our second polling question for this episode. When we come back, we’ll talk more with Simon Nynens, CEO and chairman of Wayside Technology Group. Stay with us.
Scott Harper: You’re listening to Growth Igniters Radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper, brought to you by Business Advancement Incorporated. We’re on the web at businessadvance.com.
Pam Harper: Welcome to the second question of our first ever Growth Igniters radio poll. In our second segment, we’ve been talking about creating more opportunities for your organization by focusing on what’s really important and stepping out of your collective comfort zone. Here’s our question for you: “What is the best motivator for encouraging an employee to move out of his or her comfort zone and into an innovation mindset?” Answer the multiple choice question and you’ll get instant feedback on how you compare with others on this important issue.
You can answer via text messaging or through our website. Either way, go to growthignitersradio.com, select episode 120, and click “take polls” under the resources section.
Scott Harper: The poll will take you just a minute, and be sure to act today, because time is limited. This poll will be open only between August 23rd through August 29th, 2017.
Pam Harper: Welcome back to Growth Igniters radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. We’re taking with Simon Nynens, chairman and CEO of Wayside Technology Group about how stepping out of your comfort zone can lead you and your company to unprecedented levels of success. Simon, tell us again how people can find out more about you and about Wayside Technology Group.
Simon Nynens: About our company: www.waysidetechnology.com, and for my keynotes, www.simonnynens.com.
Pam Harper: And you can find out more about Simon by going to growthignitersradio.com, selecting episode 120, and scrolling down to resources.
We’re now at the part of our episode where we focus on three immediately useful ideas that you’ve found instrumental in creating a work environment that attracts and retains talented people who want to step out of their comfort zone and create new frontiers of success. What would be a first idea − really actionable?
Simon Nynens: Really actionable is − and I can’t stress this enough − focus on building an environment that foster employees, removes the hurdle for them, and make them realize the enemy is outside. If you do not have a system of trust and a good team around you that you can really trust, do not go forward. Really decide by yourself as a leader, can I trust the people around me, and do I want to be with these people?
Scott Harper: How do you do that? How do you create that environment?
Simon Nynens: For me, if you’re on a team of people, get to know them. Get to know your vice presidents. Get to know their wives. Get to know their kids. Spend time with them. Find out who they really are. What makes them tick? Spend time with people. Really be interested in people beyond what can they do for me in terms of this number or that number. We have two company-wide, three day conferences twice a year now. Those are worldwide meetings, not just for sales. Here’s what you can do. You invite everybody of your company, not just sales. There always is these great sales conferences, and they rest of the company who has got to fulfill the orders that sales produces sits in the company and is moping around.
I grew up in the back office. I knew how that feels. I decided to have everybody from whole worldwide organization. We have offices in Europe and Canada, on the west coast, Arizona, here in Florida and New Jersey. We have representation everywhere. We fly everybody in to our headquarters. Then, they work together. At night, if you want to do a yoga session on the beach in the morning, you sign up for that. If you want to do a sip and paint at night, you sign up for that. You want to do the escape room, you want to do Monday night football, you can sign up for that. During the day, we have volunteers who organize this, and it’s all about communication and fun.
Pam Harper: When you’re doing this, it seems like having those extra activities on the side isn’t really extra at all. It’s another way of fostering that trust.
Simon Nynens: Correct. I’ve gone to so many sales conferences. There’s a CEO talking and a VP of sales talking about their new products or why this year is even more exciting than last year. To be honest with you, the next day I couldn’t remember two sentences, and that goes for a lot of employees. Most of these speeches that people give just fall by the wayside. Instead, you remember that one guy that you talked to at night when you had a couple of beers who said, “Hey, maybe we should talk and we should do this idea.” That’s what I wanted to become, so exactly like you said.
You have to be sensitive to the fact that many people are not extroverts. They need a little help in terms of getting to know people. If I know that Joe in accounts receivable also drives a motorcycle and once went to Japan and I drive a motorcycle and I went to Indonesia, I have now opened up a way to communicate between a sales rep and somebody in accounts receivable, or in the warehouse with IT. If you start doing that slowly by slowly you feel it working. We do it twice a year now. We’ve seen tremendously positive results by that. It doesn’t sound like a groundbreaking idea, but trust me, it is, because people start to better talk to each other and start to warn each other when they run into the walls.
Pam Harper: Right, and it sounds like something that you’re not just doing when times are good. I mean, this sounds like it’s fundamental for helping people to feel comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone and creating these relationships.
Simon Nynens: Correct, and by the way, we do this mostly because when time gets bad, I need to have a team that can adjust and that can talk to each other and understand each other.
Scott Harper: Okay, that sounds very practical and very important, Simon. What’s a second piece of practical, actionable advice that you can apply to this issue?
Simon Nynens: Okay, what I would say second is really look at your handbook. Look at your policies in your company, and focus on building a results-only work environment. You can find those books everywhere. It’s results-only work environment. We started with a one day work-from-home policy. Most people only have their most senior people work from home. We turned that around. I have everybody who can work for home, except of course our warehouse and our receptionist, work from home if you can three days a week. You only have to come in when it really matters. Stop managing what I call BOC, butt on chair. Butt on chair time, because a lot of managers walk around, “Well, they were here.” Well, what did they do? How many orders did they enter? How many sales? How many invoices did they enter? Why would I care as a CEO of this organization if you make journal entries on Sunday afternoon, Monday night, or Tuesday morning at 10 o’clock? Why?
Pam Harper: Well, because that’s the way we’ve always done it, right? The traditional kind of way. Now, you actually had to go through something to look at the risks, balancing the risks − because it is a risk. If you’re going to give people a certain amount of freedom to say, “You’re going to get this work done,” how did you reconcile this risk?
Simon Nynens: We needed, of course, a system to make sure that with freedom comes responsibility. We do have systems in place, electronic systems in place. I can find out everything I want to, which most organizations do as well. I know how many keystrokes people make. I know how many emails they send out. I know when they log into the system. I know when they log out − but guess what? What those systems prove to you is what you already knew − that you have the 10% slackers and you’ve got the 10% who excel. You know who your good people are. You know the people that you have to work on.
I got to tell you, we have a lot of young mothers working for us, and they love it that they can get their kids ready in the morning. They can have their kids be there when the bus comes out of school and be there. Do I really care if you put the kids to bed and then finish your work at nine o’clock at night? When you do that and you start people treating like adults, you will be amazed what they give back to you. Maybe 1% of our employees could not deal with it, and the rest they are more productive, and I could prove it to the board. They are more productive. They enter more orders, and there is less gossip, because they sit at home. When you have an extra minute, spend it with your family instead of hanging out at the water cooler.
I know it sounds controversial − I call it “peacock behavior.” People get into a role of power and they have to trot out their feathers, and say, “Look how important I am. I can get people in the office when I want to,” but what do they do? What you’re actually doing is destroying the assets that you should foster. The most important asset you have is the team.
Scott Harper: Yeah, and having really strong idea of what actually has to happen and metrics for finding out that it is. Then, everything else is gravy.
Simon Nynens: Right, and here’s another thing. You have a lot of managers who look at management reports. I find that very hard. I don’t like consolidated information, I’ve noticed over the years, it’s very tricky. I’d much rather have an excel sheet. We have data analytics software, and I’m a factual guy. I love going directly to a sales rep, look at all the orders, and say, “Why was this one smaller? Why does this customer pay with a credit card? Who’s the largest customer in Oklahoma that pays us on a credit card?” Credit card fees really take their toll in our industry. What was that in 2012? Why is that? When they tell you the stores, you follow up with them. Let’s call the customer together instead of looking at some consolidated reports and going, “Well, we have to get that down from 22 to 20.” Why? Why would I know that it should be 20% if I didn’t talk to customers? I didn’t understand it.
When I came here, the first thing I did is I just talked to customers, and I talked to our vendors and said, “What is something you really like about us? What’s something we have to improve?” Guess what, they’ll tell you. Spend time on that instead of the consolidated reports and layers of information. I never found those to be the end all to it.
Pam Harper: You know, it’s interesting that you say that, because going to customers sometimes feels very out of the comfort zone for some people. Like, “Oh my goodness. What if they tell us things we don’t want to hear.”
Simon Nynens: Exactly.
Pam Harper: For you, it’s very natural. Yet, it is something to recognize that we all have our individual comfort zones and our collective comfort zones, and leading in a way that helps people feel comfortable asking these questions, what can we do to improve? That’s very important. How about one more very quick action point?
Simon Nynens: If you want to attract and retain talented, young people, you better not be fake when it comes to sustainability. You have to design, create an environment where you use no plastics. There’s no plastic bottles allowed in our office. I have water filters installed, good water filters. We have the best coffee machine of freshly ground coffee. I don’t drink coffee, but we have tea. We have all kinds of teas.
You lower the waste; we’re almost down to zero waste. We have LED lights. There’s no glue in the carpets. We have a massive amount of indoor plants who filter the air. We are installing solar. It will make you money, and it will prove to the people who are of the next generation who understand that we have to make this world a cleaner place, attract them to you. Most people come to us and say, “Why do you want to work at Wayside?” “Because I’m a local person. I don’t want to commune to New York City. I got fare pay. I have a great office. I can work from home, and when I go to the office, I can sit on a treadmill bike. I can sit at a desk bike, I can sit in the bar and all of that without any plastic. We only have two printers, and you can only print if you’re a director. You don’t need that. Your future employees will hold you accountable for what you do for the environment, and I think rightfully so.
Pam Harper: So you’re creating that environment that helps people feel safe and comfortable so that they can work at their highest levels of productivity.
This has been great, Simon. Any final thoughts about how to create more game changing opportunities for yourself and your company by stepping out of your comfort zone?
Simon Nynens: So I’ll tell you a story. After I felt stuck a couple of years ago, one of my friends who’s more on the eccentric side said, “You have to attend this yoga retreat. It’s a self-exploration retreat.” Now, this is totally out of my comfort zone, but I did, and I loved it. I spent five nights there. I didn’t do much yoga, but there were lots of different classes, including painting and drawing and talking. I felt very uncomfortable, and when I was walking away out of one of those classes where they were drawing together … You have to draw with another person. I said, “I’m out of this. I can’t do this.” I walked out and was in a hallway, and I said to myself, “This is what you do. If you want personal growth, you got to go back. When it becomes that uncomfortable, you just go back. I know you think it’s ridiculous, but go back.” And I walked back. I did. I picked up painting afterwards. My friends are laughing, but I do. I oil paint now on Monday nights. I started public speaking, and I love it. I give master classes at some Universities. I work with the next generation. Like I said, I’m a member of the presidential leadership council.
I try all those things − I try to meditate more. I play soccer. I don’t watch television, and instead we play board games with the kids. I read to them a lot. We talk about mythology, and I spend most of my free time with whom I love most, my family, my wife, my kids, and my friends. I’m still focused on trying to become the best human being I can. I hope so will your listeners.
Pam Harper: That’s great. Thanks, Simon. We really appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us.
Simon Nynens: It was a pleasure being with you guys.
Scott Harper: Thanks, Simon. And thanks to you out there for listening to Growth Igniters radio with Pam Harper and Scott Harper. To check out resources related to today’s conversation, share on social media, find out about upcoming episodes, or read Simon’s bio, go to growthignitersradio.com and select episode 120.
Pam Harper: Until next time, this is Pam Harper…
Scott Harper: And Scott Harper…
Pam Harper: …wishing you continued success, and leaving you with this question to discuss:
Scott Harper: How can we as a team create the energy it takes to leave our comfort zone and redefine our trajectory to success?